Thursday, February 23, 2012

A latter-day "Hey Jude" ?

If a successor to "Hey Jude" exists, it may be "Tender" by Blur. Consider the similarities. Both are long, comforting, heartfelt ballads that swell into pop-hymns; both achieve grand uplift while addressing emotional pain; both are carried by singalong lyrics; and, along the same lines, both are built to be performed as a communal experience, band and audience becoming one. Have a listen below. It's one of Blur's finest songs.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday jam - "Frozen Jap"

The title aside, "Frozen Jap" is one of the better cuts from Paul's hit-or-miss, experimental solo release of 1980, McCartney II. It's a propulsive synthpop instrumental that contrasts rhythm and melody to dreamy, cinematic effect.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"The man who rejected the Beatles"

I tweeted about this article a few days ago, but it also seems worthy of a blog post. Via The Independent, it explores the validity of Dick Rowe's infamous place in rock 'n' roll history as "the man who rejected the Beatles." The official narrative may be tainted with sensationalism.

The story will be clarified by Mark Lewisohn, the British author who probably knows more about the Beatles than anyone alive, including Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, in the forthcoming first volume of his long-awaited three-part history of the group. Lewisohn points out that in some respects it was the Beatles who turned down Decca. Rowe had offered to press their records, but at their expense, not Decca's. And it was probably 50 years ago today, to misquote "Sergeant Pepper", that Rowe received Epstein's rejection of that proposal, in a letter dated Saturday, 10 February 1962.

The Beatles had auditioned for Decca. They performed 15 songs but didn't give a particularly good account of themselves. George Martin, their producer at Parlophone, told Lewisohn that, on the basis of those demos, he would have turned them down, too.

Despite that, and despite the fact that Rowe wasn't even present at the audition, his is the name generally besmirched in the story. And indeed it was Rowe who told his more junior colleague Mike Smith to choose between the Beatles and another group auditioned by Decca around the same time, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. Smith chose to offer a recording contract to the Tremeloes, not least because they hailed from Dagenham and it seemed more convenient for a London record label to have them on the books than a group from Liverpool.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday haiku - "I Call Your Name"

I made an oversight when composing the haiku for songs from Past Masters, Volume One, the compilation of early Beatles singles and b-sides that also includes the four tracks off the Long Tall Sally EP. I mistakenly thought all four were covers, and skipped over them because I didn't want to get bogged down in haiku for non-original songs. As it turns out, one was an original - "I Call Your Name," written by John before The Beatles formed.

Between the twelve-string,
the cowbell, and the ska bridge,
"Name" unfolds with flair.

(The rest of my Beatles haiku can be found here.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Macca's pop genius

Of the numerous compliments that can be paid Paul McCartney, I think one of the most notable is that he rarely, if ever, keeps his listeners at arm's length. As a songwriter and melodicist, he is preternaturally warm, inviting, and playful. He wants his fans to share in the joy that he invests in his songs. He's made a career out of achieving this connection, and often through the simplest of means. From a wealth of available evidence, I submit "Every Night," the fourth track from his 1970 debut solo album, McCartney. What it boils down to is, you can't say no to those "woo-woo-woos." On paper, they're standard vocal garnishes. In Paul's hands, they're hypnotic, irresistible treats. In Paul's hands, they're basically the chorus - and a perfect one at that.

(If the video is removed, go here.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Watch it, hippie!

Others have made the point - and I've piggybacked off of them - that "She's Leaving Home" shows The Beatles to have been out of step with the counterculture of the late 1960s. The reasoning goes that, because John and Paul registered notes of sympathy for the parents of the runaway teen, they can't be seen as full-throated supporters of that period's youth movement. Adults - instinctively conservative and out-of-touch - were part of a system of oppression, and yet The Beatles, to a certain degree in this instance, sided with them. Some avatars of the youth culture!

Lately, I've been rethinking this idea from several different angles. First, it's probably unwise to infer a connection between the song's narrative and concurrent real-life events that weren't directly related to it. Yes, "She's Leaving Home" was based on a true story, and yes, John saw some of his life in it; but there's no evidence that The Beatles recorded this song as a means to comment on the burgeoning culture war. The story likely appealed to Paul because of the raw and complicated emotions involved. Then, to make the narrative more engaging, Paul and John let the parents have a voice. After all, they're songwriters, not social commentators; the main priority is an effective story.

Second, the lyric is indeed quite evenhanded, indicating sympathy for both the girl and her parents; but in no way does it fully exonerate Mom and Dad. Consider some of the lines that provide their perspective: "We gave her everything money could buy"; "How could she do this to me?"; "We didn't know it was wrong." They evidently thought that money and consumer goods could be a substitute for meaningful interaction, and earn their daughter's love. They were wrong, and The Beatles are saying they were wrong. With her remark, "How could she do this to me?," the mother selfishly focuses on her own emotions rather than her daughter's. Again, The Beatles are critical of this. John and Paul essentially depict the parents as misguided, emotionally clumsy, and blind to obvious truths. Mom and Dad had never truly connected with their daughter. Hence, "She's leaving home after living alone for so many years." That's the chorus - lyrically, the most important part of the song - and it's a strong statement of sympathy for the girl. Paul and John clearly understood her plight, and yet they were also mindful of the parents' pain. (How could they not be?) They considered both sides.

"She's Leaving Home" is a very human song, and I now think that connecting it with the youth revolt of the 1960s misses this critical point.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Two reviews of "Kisses on the Bottom"

The New York Times:
More than 40 years have passed since Mr. McCartney infuriated the rock counterculture with the exquisite sketches of his first two post-Beatles records, “McCartney” and “Ram.” The rage and contempt heaped on an artist who was dismissed as trivial and reactionary and a betrayer of the Beatles’ legacy has long since dissipated. What distinguishes Mr. McCartney’s music, then and now, is his utter lack of grandiosity.

The Los Angeles Times:
Gentle on the ears and soft on the heart, “Kisses” might be of no greater or lesser consequence than an easygoing golf outing among friends or a weekend spent digging a garden near the back fence, but its pleasures, though small and sleepy, can be gratifying. It is a more satisfying listen if treated as a footnote in McCartney's repertoire, in the best sense of the term: a record to cite when discussing the influences of some of the writer's more Songbook-referential ditties of his own, like “Martha My Dear,” “Honey Pie” and that part in “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” about “a cup of tea and butter pie.”